THE FRONT —–“blacklisting”, which plagued the movie industry for over a decade, gets a belated backhand, in a black comedy. It has the first straight role for Woody Allen, and the last screen call for Zero Mostel.
Mostel and co-stars Herschel Bernardi, Joshua Shelley and Lloyd Gough were all actual victims of these witchcraft practices, as were this 1976 film’s director Martin Ritt and screenwriter Walter Bernstein.
Allen plays a schnooky fellow (he does it well) who is enlisted by pal Michael Murphy to serve as ‘signature’ for Murphy’s scripts, which cannot go out under his hand, thanks to the ever-vigilant(e) McCarthyites. Allen submits Murphy’s work to TV studios and in short order is ‘fronting’ scripts for several other Red-baited artists as well.
Along with Woody’s believable patsy, there is good work from Murphy and Bernardi (as a network exec). What is supposed to be the most sympathetic characterization, though, from Zero Mostel, as a persecuted comedian, punches a gaping hole in the film’s success, thanks to typically over-indulgent playing from the actor, who makes sympathy curdle into annoyance with his apparently uncontrollable hamming.
The movie doesn’t take any major political stance, rather it gets at the human-suffering cost of ratting people out. Well photographed (Michael Chapman) and scored (Dave Grusin), with a particularly arresting opening segment. The script was Oscar nominated. Running 94 minutes, with Andrea Marcovicci, Remak Ramsey, David Margulies, Norman Rose and Danny Aiello.